Pages InformationWriter Jogye Date22 Jul 2015 Read11,016 Comment0
Buddhist Art of Korea_
Mudra, the Hand Gestures of Buddha Statues
Mudras are gestures formed by the hands of a Buddha or bodhisattva, which symbolize a particular Buddhist teaching, as seen in Buddhist iconography. Unlike the statues of bodhisattvas, with the exception of the Medicine Buddha and Maitreya Buddha, Buddha statues neither wear crowns nor hold any symbolic objects. These Buddha statues express their original vows through hand gestures, or mudras. There are many types of mudras.
(1) The Dhyāna Mudrā (禪定印; Seonjeong in): In English it is called “Meditation Mudra.” This gesture of meditation is formed with both hands resting on the lap, palms upward, with thumbs touching each other and facing upward. In India the right hand is placed on left while in Korea, inversely, left hand is placed on right. This was the hand gesture adopted by the Buddha when he entered meditative concentration and by the disciples of the Buddha when they practice meditation.
(2) The Bhumisparsha Mudrā (降魔觸地印; Hangma-chokji in): In English it is called “Touching the Earth Mudra” or “Earth Witness Mudra.” In this hand gesture, the left hand, either stretched with palm up or with the thumb and index finger touching, is placed on the right foot of the meditator, who is sitting in the lotus position, in front of the navel. The right hand is touching the earth with five fingers stretched and palm downward. This mudra originates from the moment of the Buddha's enlightenment when he sat under the Bodhi tree and subdued Mara and his army.
(3) The Varada Mudrā (與願印; Yeowon in) and the Abhaya Mudrā (施無畏印; Simu-oe in): In English the former is called “Gift-Bestowing Mudra” and the latter “Fearlessness Mudra.” The Varada Mudra signifies the satisfaction of the wishes of all sentient beings. It can be made by lowering a hand with its five fingers stretched with the palm upward. If the palm is turned downward, it can become the Bhumisparsha Mudrā. The Abhaya Mudrā, adopted by the other hand, is the gesture by which the Buddha expunges the fears of all sentient beings. It is formed by raising the arm to the shoulder height and stretching the five fingers with palm turned outward. These two gestures, the Varada Mudrā and the Abhaya Mudrā, are frequently adopted by Buddha images and thus they are sometimes referred to as the “common mudras” (通印). In case of the standing statue of Sakyamuni, the right hand takes the Abhaya Mudrā while the left hand the Varada Mudrā.
(4) The Dharmacakra Mudrā (轉法輪印; Jeon-beomnyun in): In English it is called “Wheel-Turning Mudra” or “Wheel of Dharma Mudra.” This gesture was adopted when the Buddha preached his first Dharma-talk to the five monks after his enlightenment. The gesture becomes a little different depending on the historical period during which the image was created and is seldom observed in Korean Buddha statues. It is formed by first touching the tips of the thumb and the index finger of both hands and then by moving the tip of the little finger of the left hand to the contact point of the thumb and the index finger of the right hand to touch.
(5) The Heaven-Earth Mudra (天地印; Cheonji in): This gesture originates from the birth story of the Buddha according to which he walked seven steps and then uttered “In heaven and on earth, I alone am foremost,” while pointing to heaven with one hand and the earth with the other. That’s why the image of the Buddha at birth is always depicted with one hand upward and the other downward.
- excerpt from Buddhist English (Intermediate 2) published in 2014 by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism